Theoretical Girls - Biography

Theoretical Girls were among the handful of bands that created New York City’s nihilistic No Wave music scene during a brief moment in the late 70s. Composers Jeffrey Lohn (then working as a plumber) and Glenn Branca (soon to be working as a plumber’s assistant) formed the group in SoHo in 1977. “I met Glenn at a performance art place where I was performing. He saw it, and he wanted to meet me,” Lohn said in a 2002 interview with Robert Young. Lohn and Branca first performed together in November 1977 as a trio with drummer Mike Anthol, who had previously played with Lohn in the N. Dodo Band.

Bassist and keyboardist Margaret De Wys and drummer Wharton Tiers made their live debut in Theoretical Girls in a January 1978 performance at Experimental Intermedia. Theoretical Girls did not appear on Brian Eno’s No Wave compilation No New York (1978 Antilles), which featured four bands: Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Mars, and DNA. Lohn took credit for the band’s absence in his interview with Robert Young, saying that Eno “was someone who actually loved the Theoretical Girls, and he had some interest in putting us on the No New York compilation. But I think it got back to him that I was absolutely not interested in working with him, and I just didn't want to get involved with him on any level. I hated his music.”

The only record Theoretical Girls released during their existence was the single “You Got Me” b/w “U.S. Millie” (1978 Theoretical Records), with A-side by Branca and B-side by Lohn. In the fall of 1978, Branca formed a new band, the Static. The bio at Branca’s website explains: “That summer Jeff decided that he wanted to concentrate on his solo work and wouldn't do T-Girls on a full time basis. Branca now needed another outlet for his work.” Theoretical Girls appeared in Ericka Beckman’s movie 135 Grand Street New York 1979 (2010 Soul Jazz), which also included live footage of UT, Rhys Chatham, The Static and others.

Theoretical Girls broke up after playing at Max’s Kansas City in early 1979. Branca’s first composition for numerous electric guitars in alternate tunings debuted in the spring of 1979, and Branca’s compositions began to appear on record with Lesson No. 1 (1980 99 Records) and The Ascension (1981 99 Records). Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore both played in Branca’s ensemble before forming Sonic Youth. The New York Times reviewed Lohn’s composition “Theoretical Music” in 1982, and Lohn composed music for the Armitage Gone! dance company in 1983, 1984 and 1988.

“U.S. Millie” was included on the cassette Singles: The Great New York Singles Scene (1982 ROIR), long the only legitimate release of Theoretical Girls music a curious listener could find. Around the same time Atavistic Records issued retrospective Teenage Jesus & the Jerks and Mars CDs, the label released Glenn Branca’s Songs ’77-’79 (1996 Atavistic), comprising six of Branca’s Theoretical Girls songs and two songs by the Static. Lohn’s Theoretical Girls songs did not get a proper retrospective until Theoretical Record (2002 Acute). Since Branca’s compilation omits Lohn’s songs and vice versa, no single release collects all of the band’s material. 

Margaret De Wys is a composer and teaches at Bard College. Her book Black Smoke: A Woman’s Journey of Healing, Wild Love, and Transformation in the Amazon (2009 Sterling) describes her diagnosis with breast cancer and its treatment with ayahuasca. Wharton Tiers recorded Sonic Youth and many others at his Fun City studio.

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